Tag Archives: Faith

God’s People, part 168: Philip

Read John 14:8-14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Rubens_apostel_philippusPart 168: Philip. Philip is one of the disciples/apostles in all four of the Gospel accounts; however, we know very little of him from the synoptic Gospels (e.g. Mark, Matthew, and Luke). Instead, Philip is more prominently figured in the Gospel of John. It is there that we get a sense of who Philip was and how he interacted with the other disciples and with Jesus.

Philip was from the town of Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. According to John’s Gospel, Andrew and an unnamed disciple were followers of John the Baptist. Once John proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God, Andrew and the unnamed disciple left the Baptist and followed Jesus. The unnamed disciple has traditionally been understood to be the beloved disciple, whom has also traditionally understood to be John, brother of James. We will refer to him as John to keep things less confusing.

From there, Andrew and John took Jesus to Simon, whom he renamed Cephas (Aramaic for Peter). Presumably, John’s brother James was also there. These were the first four disciples called by Jesus. The next disciple, the fifth to be called, was Philip of Bethsaida. We do not know what Philip’s trade was, whether he was a fisherman or not, but we do know that the Gospel is written in such a way that seems to indicate that Andrew and Peter knew Philip. Bearing a Greek name, it has been speculated Philip may have spoken Greek and may have been known to some Greek pilgrims who were visiting Jerusalem (John 12:21). If that was the case, it certainly went on to be a benefit to him while serving Jesus.

It is believed that Philip was among the disciples at the wedding in Cana, since he was called prior to the event. Philip also introduces Jesus to Nathanael, who was also among those at the wedding. Philip, like Andrew, seemed to have a passion for bringing people into a relationship with his master. On top of introducing Nathanael, Philip let Andrew know that there were Greek pilgrims who wanted to speak to Jesus, and they both went to tell Jesus about it (John 12:22).

Overall, he was a disciple who showed great faith; however, he did waiver in that faith and was sometimes confused in his understanding of Jesus over all. When Jesus asked the disciples to feed the 5,000 men (not counting women and children), it was Philip who was confounded and questioned Jesus on how that was even possible. It was also during the Last Supper that Philip didn’t seem to understand that by knowing and seeing Jesus, he had actually known and seen the Father as well.

I think, if we are honest, Philip is representative of most of us who follow Christ. We are passionate and want to serve Christ faithfully. Sometime, even, we come through on that; however, we often times get confounded by the seeming impossibilities surrounding us, and get lost in focusing on what we do not have as opposed to focusing on what we do have: CHRIST.

The challenge for us to stop relying on our own power and on our own abilities. They will fall short every time, and they will definitely leave us feeling hopeless. Rather, we need to place our faith in Christ, in whom all things are possible if we will only believe and take the step of faith. The challenge, therefore, is for us to place our faith wholly in Christ and to move forward in our Christian walk of faith, even when things seem impossible.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Faith is not about knowledge, it’s about trusting Christ enough to move forward even though one does not know.

PRAYER
Lord, give me the kind of faith that moves mountains. I can do all things through you who gives me strength. Amen.

God’s People, part 166: Andrew

Read John 6:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means ‘Christ’)”  (John 1:40-41, NLT).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesus-feeds-the-5000-AndrewPart 166: Andrew. When it comes to the disciples there are a few we know without thinking hard about. Peter is the first to come to mind because he was not only the first called by Jesus, but he also was the one who Jesus renamed from Simon to Peter and said that he was the “rock” or “pebble” (depending on interpretation of the Greek) upon which Christ was going to build his church.  The next are a pair of disciples named James and John. John is the most known of those two; however, because James is so often paired with him they get notoriety together. They are the one’s Jesus humorously and affectionately nicknamed Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder. They must have been a fiery pair.

Another disciple who is forever etched in our memory is Matthew, the reformed tax collector, as well as Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. Then, perhaps, we might remember Andrew, who was Peter’s brother, if we remember him at all. Of course, most who have read the gospels will remember him; however, outside of Biblical literacy, there is a less likely chance that someone would remember Andrew alongside the aforementioned disciples.

With all of that said, Andrew was actually among the core leadership with in the group of twelve disciples. Since his name was always mentioned after Peter’s, it can be safely presumed that Andrew was most likely Peter’s younger brother. While we cannot be sure why Andrew is less present when Jesus’ is alone with his “inner circle”, he was among the four disciples who were closest to Jesus.

Andrew has rightly become known as the disciple who brought people into a personal relationship with Christ. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the events a bit differently, in John 1:40-42, we find that Andrew was the one who brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, it just states that Jesus saw Peter and Andrew fishing and called out to them. This could be simply away of just condensing the story.

In John, on the other hand, the account is more fleshed out with detail. For instance, we learn that Andrew and the beloved disciple (who may or may not have been John) were followers the Baptist, who pointed Jesus out to them as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. From that point on, Andrew and the beloved disciple followed Jesus and Andrew brought Jesus to Simon, who was renamed Cephas (which is Aramaic for Peter).

Also, when Jesus was preaching to the multitude (over 5,000 men, women and children), Jesus asked the disciples to feed the people. They all begin to panic, for how could they possibly feed that many people. It was in this moment that Andrew spoke up and brought a little boy to Jesus, and pointed out that this boy had a basket with five loaves of bread and two fish. Here, again, Andrew was bringing someone into contact and relationship with the Lord.

Yet, Andrew was not necessarily a person with rock solid faith. In fact, as you will see, none of the disciples were. In the same breath that he pointed out the boy to Jesus, he anxiously marveled, “But what good are [these 5 loaves and 2 fish] with a crowd this size?” Even Andrew, who proclaimed to Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41), found himself lacking in faith in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. Yet, the Lord did not reject Andrew as a result of his faithlessness, rather he performed a miraculous sign out of the meager offering of the boy Andrew brought to him.

The question for us is this: do we find ourselves doubting even though we know that Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords? The challenge for us is to step out in faith even when the odds seem squarely against us. The challenge is to let Christ work IN SPITE of the circumstances. The challenge for us is also to trust that even when we fail and/or fall short, that Christ does not reject us, but works in spite of us and shows us that he truly is in control. Let us be a people who, like Andrew, eagerly bring people to the Lord even when we are not certain where we stand on the circumstances around us. Let us dare to bring people to the One who is not imprisoned by the fear that shackles us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for loving me even when I fail to live into the faith you’ve called me. Give me an eagerness to share your love with others and bring them into a relationship with you. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Represent!

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

God’s People, part 95: Habakkuk

Read Habakkuk 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint.” (Habakkuk‬ ‭2:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 95: Habakkuk. An obscure prophet, of whom little is known, Habakkuk is believed to have lived around, or somewhere following, the rise of the Babylonians (aka the Chaldeans). Living during the seventh century BCE (ca. 612 BCE), he was an early contemporary of the prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah. Thus, Habakkuk saw the rise of the Babylonian Empire and the imminent danger that empire was to Judah. 

His short prophetic book consists of a series of questions and answers, concluding with a song of praise to God. It starts off with Habakkuk question God. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted” (Habakkuk‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭NLT).‬‬

In this, as you can plainly see, the prophet was openly questioning the working of God. He reminded God of his cries for help and then accused God of not listening. He accuses God of ignoring the need for salvation and justice, leaving the wicked to far outnumber the righteous and, as a result, allowing justice to become perverted by wicked people.

Habakkuk has been praised by scholars for his literary genius, believing that he intentionally wrote his letter in this question and answer style in order to deliver the message with dramatic effect. Whether these prayers to God were prayers he actually prayed, or whether these prayers were articulating the serious questions of the “righteous” people of Judah, Habakkuk gives voice to the lament against God’s seeming inactivity in the midst of such corruption.

More than give voice to this kind of lament, Habakkuk actually gives people permission to lament in such ways, to pray in such ways, to pour out one’s heart to God in such ways. The prophet to does not record God’s response in a way that rebukes the inquirer; rather, God entertains the questions and gives answers to the specific work that God is doing.

This pattern happens in the second chapter and, in the third chapter, Habakkuk praised God for the work that God was doing, for God’s justice, and for God’s enduring presence. Thus, after a series of questions and answers, Habakkuk leads the reader into a song of praise of God, reinforcing the reality that God not only can handle our questions, but God will answer them.

This challenges the view of God that many people have, the view that God is distant and hard to approach. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever found yourself questioning God? Have you ever felt guilty for questioning God? Habakkuk teaches us not only that God will enact justice and hold the wicked, the greedy, and those who abuse their powers accountable, but that God listens to us and does not get angry when we ask questions.

The challenge for us is to grow in our knowledge of God so that we can strenghten our relationship with God. The better we get to know God, the more we honestly and openly communicate (aka pray) with God, the more comfortable we will be with asking God the tough questions. The more we commuicate with God the better we will get at listening to God as well, and hearing God’s response. I pray, if you haven’t already, that you experience such growth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed by the masses.” —Unknown Author, possibly summarizing “The Allegory of the Cave” from Plato’s Republic

PRAYER

Lord, lead me into a deeper and stronger relationsip with you, one where I ask questions and listen for answers. Help me to see you clearly, so that I may see truth beyond the shadows that surround me. Amen.

God’s People, part 85: Gomer

Read Hosea 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, Lord,’ she said. And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more.’” (John 8:10-11 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

GomerPart 85: Gomer. I bet that most of you never realized that there was a person named “Gomer” in the Bible. Most people have probably not known many people with the name Gomer aside from, perhaps, Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show.” No doubt, Gomer is not the most “well-known” character in the Bible.

What’s more, her profession did not help her go down in the annals of notability. Being a sex worker, she would have been the sex toy of lustful men, and the scorn of pious people. Her line of work was not, nor is it now, a “respectable” vocation and she would have, no doubt, been judged by the majority of society. This would have been the case, even in the wicked Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The truth is, we are just as judgmental toward such people as well. I was just listening to an conversation on CNN between Anderson Cooper, Michael Avenatti, and some other guest. Mr. Avenatti was discussing a law suit he is filing on behalf of his client, stating that she had been defamed by the president. As such, she was seeking damages. The guest next to him began to object and push back against the lawyer. He asked, “Do you think a jury is going to buy into the claim that her character had been defamed, knowing that she is a Porn Star and has starred in over 500 porn films.” Following that question, Cooper pushed back and ask, “Wait, are you saying that her character cannot be defamed because she’s a porn star?”

Regardless of your political worldview, that question is a good one. Is Stormy Daniels not a human being, beloved of God, Created in the divine image of God, deserving of being treated with dignity and respect, simply because her line of work is sinful? What’s more, what is our part in her sin? Yes, you read that right. What is our part in her sin. What makes pornography even a thing? What causes a woman (or a man) to sell their bodies in order to make money?

The fact is that pornography, like prostitution, is driven by socio-economic factors. Women, most of whom are desparate for money (for various reasons), are being exploited by other people for the sake of making money. Money they make, indeed. It is estimated that pornography is a $97 billion industry. That’s net, not gross! So, let me ask this question again. What is our part in her sin?

I want you to make note of this. Gomer was NOT rejected by God, despite her position. Some may see God’s working in Gomer’s life to be strange. He has Hosea, his holy prophet, marry her and have children with her. Not to love her, but to prove a point to Israel that they had prostituted themselves out other nations and other gods, and there were steep consequences coming as a result.

Yet, strange as that may be, Gomer becomes the wife of a prophet and is redeemed. She’s given a new opportunity to leave her profession and raise a family. She does not even love Hosea and, evidently, leaves him for another man. Yet, Hosea pursues her and pays the other man so that he can have his wife back. What we have here is the PERFECT example of God’s love and grace. Hosea brings her back to be with him, and invites her back into faithfulness. Gomer finds redemption through God’s unconditional love, and the hope was that Israel would one day find such redemption too.

Of course, that redemption comes through Jesus Christ who, unlike his ancestor kings, would not fall away from faithfulness to God. It is through this savior that Israel, and the world, would be redeemed and reunited with God. We have been, like Gomer, married to Christ and are being asked to remain faithful.

With that said, we can never be faithful to Christ though self-righteous judgmentalism. The challenge for us is to not point our fingers at another’s sins, as if we have not played our part in those sins, as well as others. Instead, let us embrace Christ remain faithful to Christ our Lord, our Savior, our Redeemer, the Lover of our Souls.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:1-2 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to reflect redemption rather than rejection. For I have not been rejected by you, but have been redeemed for your glory. Amen.

God’s People, part 43: Samuel

Read 1 Samuel 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.” (1 Samuel 16:13 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

bible-samuelPart 43: Samuel. Have you ever felt like you heard the voice of someone calling you? I have. I remember when I was a boy, my parents had my sister and I go to bed at the WAY TOO EARLY time of 8 p.m. during the school year. Okay, so I now realize my parents were more reasonable then I thought they were then; however, at the time, this was a BIG DEAL for me. Why did I have to go to bed so early? As you can probably tell, I have always been a night owl and still am to this day.

One time, my parents were watching a movie after were in bed. Well, I just wanted to watch it and I couldn’t fall asleep, so I suck to the stairs and laid down so I could peer at the TV screen through the railing at the top of the staircase. At some point, deeply entrenched in the movie, I heard the voice of what I thought to be one of my parents (I couldn’t really tell if it was mom or dad at the time, which is odd now that I think of it) saying, “Todd, go to bed.”

My heart froze in its place and I jumped up and ran to bed. The next day, I sheepishly walked up to my mother and confessed that I had indeed been watching the moving from the railing and that I was sorry for not staying in bed. She looked at me with the most puzzled look on her face. I then asked her if she had been the one who told me to go to bed. She shook her head horizontally, to tell me that she had not told me to go to bed and that she didn’t even know I was up there watching. Later, my dad stated that he had not known either. Yet, I had audibly heard that adult-like voice telling me to go to bed.

I’d imagine that Samuel, much like me, had his heart freeze when he heard the voice of God calling him to be a prophet. Three times he heard that voice and thought it was Eli, the high priest who had taken Samuel under his wing as an apprentice of sorts. Finally, Eli instructed Samuel to say, “Speak, your servant is listening,” as he realized it was God speaking to him.

Samuel, as the Bible informs us, became the next and the final judge of the Israelites. As he would find out, his call kept changing and evolving and Samuel often felt like he was on shaky ground. He served God and his people as faithfully as he could; however, as is often the pattern in the Bible, his children were not spitting images of him or his faithfulness. They, rather, became corrupt and the people did not trust them to be leaders.

This must have crushed Samuel, and he must have felt like an utter failure when he ended up having to give in to the demands of the people and anoint a person to become their king and sovereign, a person he could only hope would represent God rather than his own self-interests. And the fact that his first choice for king was a failure and a realization of his worst fears, certainly did not help. With that said, Samuel did what he felt he must despite all the uncertainty and his faithfulness to God led to the rise King David and the royal lineage that would trace itself all the way to the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

The challenge for us is to learn from Samuel’s persistence despite the uncertainty we face in day to day life. We are often uncertain of how things are going to turn out and we often find ourselves questioning why things are turning out as they do; however, if our hearts remain open to the guidance of God, we will never be led astray. Even when we do make wrong choices, God will still work in us and through us for the glory of God and the coming of the heavenly Kingdom. Have faith, be still and know that God is with you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“In this quest to seek and find God in all things, there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good.” – Pope Francis I

PRAYER
Lord, help me deal with the uncertainty and, rather than resting assured in what I think I know, let me rest assured in my faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 32: Gideon

Read Judges 6-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.” (Hebrews 11:32 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

GideonPart 32: Gideon. If there is one thing that is consistent, it is that people forget quickly the things that lead them astray. This is true in the accounts of the judges. Following each judge, it reads, “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…” This is usually followed by God handing them over to their enemies. While that is the way the authors articulated it, what really happened was that the Israelites got too big for their britches and found out that they were no match against some of their enemies. God was not punishing them; rather, their own sinful propensity of ignoring God left them facing the unintended consequences of their own designs.

Out of those periods of unintended consequences, rose up new judges who were being called to bring people back to God. Gideon, was one among many of those judges. When one reads the three chapter account of Gideon, it is amazing how he was able to not only defeat the enemies of the Israelites, but he did so without ever forgetting who empowered him. When I think of Gideon, I think of people like George Washington who, after winning the Revolutionary War (a miraculous feat unto itself) and serving two terms as the first President of the United States of America, stepped down from the seat of power in order to hand it off to the next person in line.

Gideon was such a leader, for sure! When the Israelites begged the victorious Gideon to rule over them as a king, and to place his sons up as his heirs and successors, Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23 NLT)! What faith, and faithfulness, it must have took for him to turn aside the lure of power.

Still, Gideon did not start off as such a commanding person of faith. As God called him, he found himself doubting that God was calling him. He puts God to the test to prove that God was really calling him. Even after the LORD proved to Gideon that it was God calling him, he still found himself fearful and in doubt. When God asks him to destroy the altar of Baal, and to cut down the pole dedicated to Asherah, he does so in the middle of the night so nobody sees him. Of course, one they see that both were destroyed, they end up finding out it was him anyway.

The point of this is that while Gideon’s story ends with him being shown as a warrior who protected his people against the vicious Midianites, he was far from perfect. He hesitated when he knew that God was calling him, stalling out of fear of failure as well as death. Instead of boldly stepping out in faith, he was sheepish and cowardly at first. Yet God did not hold that against Gideon at all. In fact, God humored Gideon in his tests and in his initial cowardice.

The point here is this, God is calling each of us into service. God is calling us to defend the defenseless, to speak out for those who have no voice, to protect those who are weak, to serve those in need of help, and to help people return to a right relationship with God. God has been calling us all our lives to such a divine purpose, but many of us have either ignored the call, or have been ignorant to it.

What’s more, when we do answer God here or there, it is often in a way that mirrors Gideon’s initial response. Yet God still called Gideon and patiently waited for Gideon to do what he was created to do, and God still calls you and is waiting for your repsonse as well. If you respond, if you make the effort to continually respond, over time you will become stronger in your faith and will begin to boldly step out with faith in service of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” – St. Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief so that I may grow in my faith as Gideon did, and answer your call to serve boldly. Amen.

God’s People, part 6: Abraham

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 6, Abraham. Even if one has never been in a church, or sat in a Sunday school class, he or she most likely knows exactly who Abraham is. He is known as the father of three of the worlds major religions, all three of those religions being the largest in the world. He is also the father of the three religions that have had the most impact on the development of the world. So, it is pretty hard to live in this world and NOT know who Abraham is.

If you were to randomly ask who Abraham was, you might get “the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Or, you might get “the old guy who had a child.” Or, still, you might get “the guy who took his child up on a mountain to sacrifice him because God told him to” (more on this later). Of course, you most likely would get “a person of tremendous faith.”

All of the above are true; however, the fact is that Abraham got things wrong far more often than he got things right. While he may have had faith when it came to following God’s call to leave his homeland behind, he did not have faith enough to not sleep with Hagar in order to have a male heir. His faithfulness to God was limited by his inability to remain faithful to Sarah. I am not even referring to the fact that he had sexual relations with another woman, but that he was so willing to give his wife over to be the sexual property of kings in order to save his own hide.

On top of all that, Abraham had such a faith in God that he was willing to do something that is so horrific, so unimaginable that, it is hard to justify no matter what one’s theology is. When Abraham is told by God, according to the story, to sacrifice his son Isaac on top of a mountain, Abraham does exactly what he is told, without even questioning.. He does not let Sarah know, for obvious reasons, but he takes his son and has him carry the wood to his place of death.

The whole time, Isaac is walking alongside of his dad thinking that they are on their way to sacrifice a lamb. He even asks his dad, “where will we get a lamb, dad?” Abraham responds, “The LORD will provide us one.” Nice, right? He’s leading his own son to the slaugther and Isaac is completely unaware that his dad, the one who is supposed to love and protect him, is about to butcher him with a knife and burn his flesh to appease God.

It truly is one of the most horrific stories in all of the Bible. It’s easy for us to glaze over the fact that he’s about to murder his son, and focus on the faith he was displaying to do so; however, would any of us think the same thing if a modern father attempted to murder his own son because he heard God’s voice telling him to? When Abraham hears that the city that his nephew was living in is going to be destroyed, he argues with God over it and gets God to agree to spare his nephew’s life. If he could do that for his nephew, why didn’t he do that for his own son? He had faith in God, sure, but he clearly was lacking in any sort of understanding of God’s character: LOVE. Otherwise, he would have surely questioned God on the command to sacrifice his son. Thank goodness that God put a stop to it before Abraham could carry the murderous act all the way through to its grizzly conclusion.

I could go on and on regarding the serious flaws that can be found in Abraham, but to mention all his flaws is beside the point. After all, we are all flawed, are we not? Despite his flaws and shortcomings, God saw the heart of Abraham. While he often failed to perfectly live up to God’s standard, his heart never waivered in trying. He strived to follow a God. Even though he could not see God, he knew God was present with him. Because of that, Abraham was open hearing God’s voice, and he followed it to the best of his ability. That is all that God asks of us as well. While we might not always be faithful, God is ALWAYS FAITHFUL. All God asks in return is for us to open ourselves up to the direction of the Holy Spirit and to trust that, no matter what our flaws are, God’s grace is sufficient and is sufficiently working Salvation in us and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

While God would never ask us to sacrifice our children to “prove our faith”, God does ask us to sacrifice plenty of other things (tithes, time, talents, presence, etc.), and doing so proves our faith.

PRAYER

Lord, give me ample opportunity to grow in my faith, so that my faith may witness to you.

God’s People, part 5: Sarah

Read Genesis 21:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” (Genesis 18:12 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SarahAndIsaacPart 5, Sarah. I don’t think that we in modern Western Civilization have a good or healthy understanding of the character of Sarah. When we think of her story we only think of one thing, her pregnancy with Isaac in old age. That is not entirely our fault because the Bible presents that moment as the crowning moment in Sarah’s life and, no doubt, it was. What’s more, we are so far removed from that ancient world, that the context is almost nearly lost to us.

If we think of anything else, regarding Sarah, we think of how she had an incredibly hard time believing that what God said would happen would come true. We almost hold that against her contemptuously, as if it isn’t completely insane to believe a woman of 70+ years was going to bear a child! “Oh, but God said it would happen,” one might contend, “and she should have believed God because God is all-powerful and can make anything happen.” Well, that’s easy for one to say, but I would reply back, “Whose god? And why don’t you start believing that God can make your grandmother pregnant, if that is so easy to believe?”

We forget Sarah’s story, and we also forget that there’s more to her life, to her worth, than her ability, or lack thereof, to get pregnant. Yet, Sarah came from a world where pregnancy was the crowning achievement for a woman. In fact, it was understood at the time to be the main reason a woman existed, to bear the man’s male child so that the family could have an heir and the patriarchy could continue. It was a man’s world, through and through.

But back to the question of “whose god?”. We forget that Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) were not Jewish and they did not always worship Yahweh (I AM that I AM). They came from a foreign land (Ur) and worshipped many gods. So, it is all well and good that Abram had this inkling to follow a new-found god, but why would that make Sarah believe that this god could make the impossible happen?

Don’t get me wrong, Sarah was far from a perfect person. She certainly doubted that God would make her, barren and at an advanced age, pregnant. She even laughed when an angel told her husband that she would conceive a child. She “convinced” her husband to sleep with her servant girl, Hagar, in order that Hagar might serve as a surrogate mother to Sarah’s “child.” She harshly abused Hagar and Ishmael out of jealousy when her own son, Isaac, was finally born. She was so jealous that she eventually had Hagar and Ishmael banished out into the wilderness where she had hoped they would die.

Be that as it may, she also was a woman who had a tough life and endured abuse at the hands of her sometimes-cowardly husband. She was barren and no doubt believed by her family to be under the curse of the gods because she could not give her husband what every good wife was supposed to produce: a male heir. She had to leave everything behind, her family and friends and homeland, to chase some crazy dream of a promised land and descendants that match the number of stars. She had a husband who, fearing for his life, sexually trafficked her to the courts of kings. Sarah’s life was not one that any of us would hope to have. It was hard, it was uncertain, and filled with much woe.

Yet, despite her flaws and hardships, God still favored this woman and richly blessed her. God did keep the promise to give her a child and God rose up out of that child innumerous descendants, including many kings of many nations. What’s more, out of Sarah came the descendant who would be the Light of the World. Sarah’s laughter of disbelief became her laughter of joy.  Do you laugh at what God’s called you to do? Do you see God’s call as impossible? Do you even know what God’s purpose for you is? Have no fear, even in disbelief and doubt, in turmoil and struggle, God’s faithfulness is never ending. Have faith and believe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Mark 9:23

PRAYER
Lord, fulfill in me your purpose for my life and turn my laughter of doubt into laughter of joy. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: 99

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.